In the eighth installment of this series, Bigfooty talks to the coach of the Japanese Samurai national side, Brett Snowdon. (Update Nov 6th – further information has been added from comments posted by the former coach Jonathon Cooper to the Roar where needed)
Australian football in Japan has undergone some evolutionary changes in its short history. It faces an uphill battle against a rising tide of baseball, soccer and even rugby in its attempts to capture the hearts and minds of a japanese culture.
Snowdon tells me that this isnt all the problems the league faces. Most players will only last a year or two before finding that they simply dont have the time to play sport as work gradually takes over their lives after they finish university. He also says that for the most part, players of a reasonable size end up playing baseball. Both of these things make it difficult to develop good players.
Cooper says that another problem is the tyranny of distance, teams will travel at least once between Tokyo and Osaka each season, and finals and the Japan Cup. Cooper explains that when the Cup was held in Chiba, the team drove the ten hours there, played a full day of matches and then drove the ten hours back. Finally, the Grand Final is held in Yokohoma every year, and players must be able to pay their own way.
In 2004, World Footy News reported that there were 2 leagues, 12 teams and 305 registered Australian football players in Japan with 83% of those being Japanese in origin. Cooper says that those numbers were likely inflated as many of the teams were little more than a name. Today, Brett tells me that there are about 120 players in 8 teams, with roughly the same percentage of Japanese players. Three quarters of the teams feature a majority of Japanese players.
In 2004, the game in Japan was run by two bodies, the JAFA, (later JAFL and then AFL Japan), and the Nippon AFL, which wikipedia says went dormant in 2008. In 2013, there is only AFL Japan. Today the league is proudly run by a board that is predominately Japanese and Cooper says that everyone is now pulling in the same direction.
Matches are played under a 9 a side format with games played every 3 weeks, except for a break in August. All teams play each other once during the season.
Snowdons path to the National coaching role is intriguing. He played senior footy for South Mandurah in the Peel League. When he move to Japan there wasn’t an official league and he ended up with the Osaka Dingoes playing irregular matches, and then returned to Australia. When he returned seven years later he spent a further two years with the Dingoes while living in Tokyo, until in 2013 when a friend said that he was starting a new team in Tokyo (The Tokyo Bay Suns).
Snowdon began helping out then National coach Jonathon Cooper before taking over in 2013 after Cooper had to step down due to the travel and lack of funding.
Coopers path is a little different, he describes himself as something of a football journeyman, having played in Tasmania, and the Kimberley as well as the USA and Japan. Hes been involved in football in Japan for four years, was the development and national coach and is the current President of the Osaka Dingoes side.
Despite attending all four International Cups, Japan has had little in the way of fortune with its best result an 8th in 2008. Brett says that the Samurai side is better than it appears at the cup, but players and even coaches are finding it hard to get time off to due to pressure from employers not to take lots of time off at once (The Cup is a 3 week tournament).
Despite the poor performances of the past, Snowdon is bullish about his teams prospects at the International Cup. He also says that he dreads the number of good players that cant make it due to work pressures. For all that, he says its not a holiday and they are coming over to try to win. The Samurai are aiming for top ten in 2014.
Like most sides coming to the International Cup, the players fund their own way to the cup. Snowdon says that Japanese companies just arent interested in sponsoring Australian football with their preferences being Baseball, Soccer and Rugby Union. As Snowdon says, he cant understand why, with all the funds the game generates in Australia, that AFL HQ cant send even a few thousand to each international team to help defray the costs of attending.
Snowdons vision for the future is all about expansion setting up more teams and more games. More money from AFL Headquarters and a full sized ground would be ideal. As far as Brett can tell, adminstration issues at the AFL Japan level caused a lack of funding from AFL HQ this season.
Brett says that more international matches and the subsequent experience from them is the key to development for the future. To that end, he’s hopeful of Japan becoming involved in the new East Asian League.
If you’d like to get involved with Australian football in Japan please visit their website at http://www.jafl.org.